International (MNN) — Approximately 80 percent of healthcare in developing countries takes place at home, according to UNICEF. They estimate around 40 percent of child deaths in developing countries could have been prevented with improved family and community care.
Tomorrow, April 7th, is World Health Day and provides an opportunity to spotlight these health and hygiene needs around the world.
While there are many organizations with health programs, Food for the Hungry (FH) combines health and hygiene education with the Gospel in around 20 different countries! One way is through their Cascade Groups.
In a Cascade Group, a staff member with FH teaches 10 mothers in an impoverished community about good health and hygiene practices. The topics cover handwashing, water purification, personal hygiene, breastfeeding, and nutrition.
FH’s Beth Allen explains, “It’s a way of taking messages into the community about caring for children and improving the lives of children where mothers in the community are working together to make life better for their children.”
After those 10 mothers have completed their learning in the Cascade Group, they each go and teach 10 more mothers in a new Cascade Group, who go to teach other moms, and so on.
“The Cascade Groups are important to us because, the way they work, they allow us to move a community toward graduation. That’s one of Food for the Hungry’s key concepts is that we’re going into a community but we will only be there for usually seven to ten years, and then the community will move on [by] its own,” says Allen.
“You can see it multiplies very quickly as far as the number of people in the community who not only have the information and the messaging, but then are ready to teach it to each other and hold each other accountable for what they’ve learned. It works really well.”
In communities with Cascade Groups, the mothers often see results very quickly in the health and growth of their young children.
Allen shares, “I remember one conversation with a Bolivian mother…who brought me her children. She had three or four children and we were talking and doing an interview. She pointed to the baby and said, ‘This baby is already two inches longer or taller than his older brother was at his age.’ She could see it in the child and that’s pretty amazing where they can see the results of their activity very, very quickly.”
In Allen’s own travels with the ministry, she has discovered that women and mothers in rural communities tend to feel very isolated. “There isn’t necessarily a lot of information transfer going on about good ways to raise your children. They don’t have the blogs with the moms that we have here to trade information. So one of the things this group does is it brings the women together so they’re not trying to be good parents in isolation. They have some backup to try to put new ideas into practice.
“I sat with one mother in Bolivia at one point who, when I asked her about the teaching we were doing in health and nutrition, she began to cry as I was talking with her about the importance of it. I said, ‘What is it that’s so important to you?’ And she said, ‘Well, I didn’t have a single friend in this community until you guys came in and you had me working with the other mothers here. Now I have friends. Now I have people who can help me out. Now I don’t feel so alone in this parenting thing.’ Because parenting is hard; I don’t care what continent you are on — parenting is hard. So she was just so grateful for that.”
But the biggest impact in these Cascade Groups comes when the leaders connect health and hygiene with the value God places on the lives of these mothers and their families.
“One of the messages we talk about to the mothers is that God created us to love one another, and that’s really powerful for a lot of women. One of them is that just the thought that God would have a relationship with them or a desire for their lives. It’s very powerful to walk into a group of moms and say, ‘God has a desire for your life, that you would show love for your children and that your children need you. That is a God-given gift to you.’ [It’s] very, very important for them and it’s very freeing. It’s something that makes them feel valued.”
While the Cascade Groups tend to focus on mothers, Allen says FH’s ministry involves the fathers and the whole family. And when mothers and fathers are effectively caring for the health of their children, it also inspires them to get involved in other community outreaches.
Allen saw this firsthand with a group of mothers in Peru. “Not only were they doing things with the health of their children, but then because of the bonds they formed and because of just the joy of seeing that their kids actually responded, they started to do things like forming up together so they could work better with the government [and] to do things like build schools in their community.”
You can directly support Cascade Groups with FH by sponsoring a child! “That monthly sponsorship is how we are able to be able to put this program in motion…all over the world,” Allen explains.
And, Allen urges, “[Be] praying for those moms! For many of the people listening to this, you’re a mother or you know of moms who are struggling to make it, just struggling to get through each day, and this kind of program really helps. So be praying for those moms worldwide who really want something better for their children.”